Kyoto: Kaji

This is the third post on my recent food eating adventures to Japan. All other posts can be found here

When E first told me that she had found a good kaiseki place by the name of Kaji, I quickly did a google search for it and came up with some interesting finds. Turns out that Chef Kaji had been a participant many years ago in the Japanese cooking variety show – Iron Chef, where he went up against an Iron Chef Michiba. I actually watched the American dubbed version of that episode where the theme was an Umeboshi battle. After watching the episode, I was blown away… The dubbing was hilariously amusing, but more than that, I actually thought that it was a very close battle and Kaji deserved to win. More so, he struck me as a very humble chef, unlike Michiba, who came across as rather arrogant and at times, rude. 

So, we arrived a little early at Kaji, after our visit to Kinkaku Ji, which is a breathtaking picturesque scene and totally worth a visit, even if all we do is take thousands of photos of the pavilion, walk around and take more photos of the pavilion.

Nevertheless, I digress. Kaji is about a 15 minute bus ride from Kinkaku Ji and this is where I really recommend getting a simcard when you’re in Japan. Google maps can be such a big lifesaver at times.

Just as I was sitting down, Chef Kaji himself actually comes into the restaurant. Giddy, with excitement, I urged E to confirm that he had truly been a contestant on the show and he had!

So to start off our course, we had some hibiscus sake which was awesome. Cold and refreshing, just what we needed after a hot day out in Kyoto.

Assortment of appetizers – smoked salmon, pickles, plum, edamame, barley seeds with chilli, jellyfish, cucumber, hamo (pile eel) and edamame jelly, Ayu sushi.

Hamo (pike eel) with seaweed mochi) – One thing I’ve learnt is the the hamo meat always looks like it’s been sliced roughly, but that’s not true. Japanese chefs actually de-bone the hamo before serving, which is rather difficult to do due to the delicate bone structure of the eel. If not done properly, one could find leftover bone, or the strong fishy taste of the eel would still remain. Hence, the ability to eat hamo properly reflects on the knife skills of the chef.  I particularly liked the flavours of the dish, the slice of lime gave a nice tart contrast to the soup.

Sashimi plate with tuna, hamo, octopus, shrimp with shoyu, seabream, scallop and silk tofu with shoyu, radish and salt sauces. This was an excellent dish, the seafood were all very fresh.

Vegetable tempura with corn chawanmushi – the highlight for me was the corn chawanmushi. I actually nearly forgot to eat it and immediately grabbed it when the chef came to clear our plates. I’m so glad I did because I absolutely loved the use of corn in this dish.

Tomato tofu – interesting take on tofu. Considering that we just had a tofu lunch at Shoraian earlier in the day, it was nice to have something different.

Steamed seabream (tai) with local vegetables – We were given the mainly the fish head and some parts of the main body. I found my fish to be a little overcooked. However, E had no problem with hers and finished everything.

Rice and pickles

Dessert – sake ice cream with blueberry sorbet. We were given a choice of mango, pineapple or sake ice cream. A bit of a no-brainer actually… both of us chose the sake option. This was a nice dessert and a nice way to end the dinner. Needless to say, I was extremely full after this.

Besides E and I, there was another couple sitting at the counter who were visiting from Tokyo. I used to think that Japanese people are so so lucky to have such wonderful cuisine at their fingertips. I figured that they would be very amused that foreigners like me get crazy excited about things like Kaiseki courses. Hence, I was really surprised to learn (via E) from the couple from Tokyo that ever since Traditional Japanese cuisine has been honoured by UNESCO, restaurants in Tokyo have raised their prices considerably such that young couples are finding it difficult to appreciate and enjoy their own country’s traditional cuisine due to budget constraints. It reminded me a lot of my visit to Shoraian when the lady server commented that the restaurant sees a good number of foreigner visitors, more so than locals at times. I felt a little sad when I heard about this, since I myself would become quite upset if my local foods like chilli crab were to become beyond my reach. How would I be able to champion such cuisines if I’ve rarely had the chance to eat and appreciate these things?

Having said that, props must be given to chef Kaji who still strives to serve good quality food at affordable prices. His 10 course kaiseki dinners start from 3,900 yen and go up to 10,500 yen. E and I opted for the 6,000 yen kaiseki course and we were extremely satisfied and pleased with what we got. Chef Kaji himself was a great host and was constantly present to ensure that the four of us sitting at the counter were comfortable.

We ended the night with chef Kaji graciously obliging us with a photo opportunity

Add: 112-19 Yokokaji-cho, Ogawahigashi-iru, Marutamachi-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 604-0087

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